Bleacher Report's 2015-16 Preseason College Basketball All-American Picks
The influence of freshmen on college basketball has never been greater, but seniors have not lost their place.
A look back at last year's national champion, Duke, is a great example of how the NBA age limit has given more power to the freshmen. The Blue Devils became the second team in the last four years—joining Kentucky's 2012 team—to win a national title mostly on the backs of stud freshmen.
This is why it's foolish not to at least consider freshmen when building a preseason All-American team, a practice that was once frowned upon. That's not to say, however, that freshmen should dominate these preseason squads.
A look back at the last four Associated Press All-American first teams suggests a balance of class, weighted slightly in favor of seniors. Those teams have included seven seniors, five juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen.
This year's preseason B/R team comes close to reflecting those numbers: three seniors on the first team, one fourth-year junior and one stud freshman, who was a unanimous selection. If any class is underrepresented, it's the sophomores. Only one sophomore made one of our three teams. If we are biased in any way, it's toward age. Seniors dominate the three teams.
Colleagues Jason King and Kerry Miller joined me on the selection committee. Our apologies for not including your favorite player. He's probably a sophomore.
G Melo Trimble, Maryland (Sophomore): Trimble helped resurrect the Maryland program as a freshman. He's one of the best scorers off the bounce in the country and considered one of the top NBA point guard prospects. With more talent around him this season, the Terps have Final Four aspirations.
G Jamal Murray, Kentucky (Freshman): Murray killed it this summer playing for Canada's national team in the Pan Am Games, with the 18-year-old averaging 16.0 points per game. That bumped up the expectations for Murray as a freshman. The belief now is that he is the favorite to lead the Wildcats in scoring.
G/F Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (Senior): Last time we saw Valentine, he was dropping five threes and 22 points on Duke in the Final Four. He can get buckets and also has tremendous vision and feel for the game. He'll likely be relied upon to be Michigan State's primary ball-handler with the graduation of Travis Trice.
F Perry Ellis, Kansas (Senior): Ellis is one of the toughest covers at the power forward spot in the country. He can score with his back to the basket, knock down a perimeter jumper or attack off the bounce. Every season, his perimeter game has improved. The Jayhawks plan on using him all over the floor this year.
F Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin (Junior): Hayes was one of the most improved players in the country a year ago and is now the go-to guy in Madison. He's evolved into someone who can score both inside and out. He didn't make one three as a freshman and then knocked down 40 as a sophomore.
G Fred VanVleet, Wichita State (Senior): The senior point guard is one of the best leaders in college basketball. In his first three years, the Shockers have won 95 games, made a Final Four, started 35-0 his sophomore season and then made a Sweet 16 as a junior. He's already the all-time assist leader in Wichita and will go down as a legend in that town.
G Marcus Paige, North Carolina (Senior): North Carolina is preseason No. 1 and that's a testament to the abilities of Paige more so than anything else. The senior does so much for the Tar Heels. He's been pretty much their only outside shooting threat the last two years and led the team in both scoring and assists. A big senior season is expected once he returns from a fractured hand that will keep him out for three to four weeks.
G Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (Senior): Brogdon is one of only two players returning off one of the first two 2014-15 AP All-American teams. Even with that designation, Brogdon is often underappreciated. He's one of the best perimeter defenders in the country and has led the Cavaliers in scoring each of the last two seasons.
G Ron Baker, Wichita State (Senior): Baker once skipped a workout for KU coaches because he was worried he wasn't good enough and would embarrass himself. The fifth-year senior, who arrived at Wichita State as a walk-on, is now one of the best two-way guards in the country and a future pro.
C Skal Labissiere, Kentucky (Freshman): Labissiere is next in a run of talented big guys who have come through Kentucky. He's projected to be a top-two pick in the 2016 NBA draft, but first, he'll try to help the Wildcats get back to the Final Four for the fourth time in five years.
First-Team All-American: G Kris Dunn, Providence (Junior)
If college basketball coaches held a draft for this season, Kris Dunn would be the favorite to be the top pick.
Dunn can do a little bit of everything, and the numbers back it up. He averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists (third in the NCAA), 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game (fifth in the NCAA) a season ago. He's not just a gambler on the defensive end, either; he's a lockdown defender, and his defensive instincts are what led to all the steals.
This year, his scoring is likely to go up, and he told Bleacher Report this summer that his goal is to make 77 threes—he attempted only 77 in 2014-15. If Dunn is able to consistently knock down shots from deep, he'll be the most complete player in college basketball. You could argue he already is.
First-Team All-American: G Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (Senior)
Last month at the Big 12 media day, I watched as players from other teams all seemed to gravitate toward Buddy Hield. Not only can Hield light it up from deep, but he has an infectious personality that makes him a lot of fun to be around.
Hield is one of the gems of college basketball, and he's helped turn Oklahoma into one of the most complete teams in the country. He's evolved his game through the years, embracing defense to help turn the Sooners around on that end and improving his ball-handling to become more than just a spot-up shooter.
It's that jumper, though, that makes him special. Hield has a quick release and knack for hunting shots. He made 93 threes last year and had 19 games where he knocked down at least three treys. He also led the Big 12 in scoring last season at 17.4 points per game and was the conference's Player of the Year.
First-Team All-American: F Ben Simmons, LSU (Freshman)
This is what the Ben Simmons experience is like: A 6'10" man is bringing the ball up the floor, only it's nothing like you'd imagine a 6'10" guy dribbling up the floor would be like. Simmons has better handle than anyone on the floor, better vision than anyone on the floor, and if you don't get in his way, he's likely going to throw down a left-handed hammer dunk that makes SportsCenter. Get in his way, and he'll find an open shooter.
Right away, Simmons is going to be the most difficult guy in college basketball to game-plan for. He is unstoppable in the open court, and in the half court, he has such great court awareness that a double-team isn't advisable. His only perceived weakness is his jump shot, but the stroke isn't bad. Albeit a small sample size, he shot 44.4 percent (4-of-9) from deep on a trip to his native Australia this summer, according to LSU.
Some freshmen take time to adjust to the college game, but similar to Jahlil Okafor last year, Simmons is so unique and his game so advanced that he shouldn't have much trouble figuring out how to dominate.
First-Team All-American: F Georges Niang, Iowa State (Senior)
Former coach Fred Hoiberg identified Georges Niang as Iowa State's "H." That stood for Hybrid, which is the perfect description of Niang.
On one possession, he'll abuse his man on the blocks, using textbook footwork and an array of post moves to get a bucket. On the next possession, he'll initiate the offense like a point guard—he averaged 3.4 assists per game last year, which ranked seventh in the Big 12 and ahead of four starting point guards in the league. And then next time down, he'll be spotting up to bury a three—he made 46 treys and shot 40.0 percent from deep last year.
Niang was the Big 12's third-leading scorer last season at 15.3 points per game. Some will worry how Iowa State's offense will perform without Hoiberg, but those concerns should be put off for at least a year. It's hard to imagine an offense sputtering that's led by the many talents of Georges Niang.
First-Team All-American: F Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga (Senior)
Take a look at a comparison of two of the most effective scoring big men in college basketball last year:
- Player A made 68 threes at a 46.6 percent clip, and Player B made 42 treys at a 41.6 percent clip.
- Player A made 57.6 percent of his twos; Player B made 58.1 percent.
- Player A made 86 free throws at 78.9 percent; Player B made 156 free throws at 78.0 percent.
Player A was Kyle Wiltjer. Player B was Frank Kaminsky.
It's tough to say who had the better season based exclusively on those numbers. Kaminsky averaged 18.8 points per game to Wiltjer's 16.8, but he also played six more minutes per game than Wiltjer. The free throws probably give Kaminsky the nod, and he was a very deserving National Player of the Year.
What's crazy is I've seen some preseason All-American first teams that don't include Wiltjer. He's one of the best shooters in college basketball, he's really good scoring from the blocks, which is an underrated part of his game, and he'll be in his second year in the Gonzaga system. And last year, his numbers were very similar to the National Player of the Year! I am proud to say that my colleagues agreed, and Wiltjer was a unanimous pick on our ballots.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.